Since leaving the ’80s retro-rock outfit The Weather Prophets, Pete Astor has reinvented himself as an ambient remixer par-excellence. For the past few years, in collaboration with David Sheppard, Astor has been putting out quirky self-financed singles and EPs under the Ellis Island Sound moniker, in between taking on some notable remix commissions.
But where Astor got to contribute vocals to his earlier project The Wisdom of Harry, this album is all instrumental, comprising 13 singles, remixes and rarities gathered together from the first four years of Ellis Island Sound’s existence.
Although it’s the duo’s first album, some tracks, including Republica Evescarra, Raunch Stuff and Six Shooter Annex date back to 1997 and the All City EP. Like so much of the album these are lo-key and lo-fi, reminiscent in parts of Mouse on Mars and Broadcast, while the single, Olympic 2020, is altogether more confident – if veering a little too dangerously into MOR Vangelis territory.
The undoubted highlight of this collection, however, is the overhaul of Regular Fries‘ Cyanide – a rare case, perhaps, of the remix being preferable to the original, transforming the track into a effortlessly gorgeous piece of high-grade lounge music.
Your Twisted Sister, a previously unreleased remix of a Little Mothers track, is rather more exuberant, acoustic guitars, drums and some delightfully quirky birdsong samples lending it an unmistakably Latin flavour.
Less successful – although presumably a must for Manic Street Preachers‘ completists – is the remix of Ocean Spray, a rather meandering cut enlivened by some pretty synth ornamentation.
Theme from Milos – another track from the All City EP – drifts by on a breeze of acoustic guitars and what sounds like chirping crickets, but, like some of the other tracks, lacks shape and direction. Half Nelson, a previously unreleased out-take from 1997, has more going for it – a piece of noirish mood music underpinned by a chugging rhythm, the kind of thing Portishead used to do so well.
There’s nothing here as in your face as Orbital, none of the brutalist experimentalism of Aphex Twin. What you get instead is a simple, uncluttered soul wash of an album – as laconic and dreamy as a sunny summer afternoon – which is probably the best time to experience this oddly beguiling music. If there’s a downside it’s that the album is too unassuming for its own good, its very nature, as a grab bag of old tracks, leaving the whole with a certain lack of focus.